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 Malta Enterprise CEO Sue Vella speaks to OUTLOOK about the links between industry and the various environmental concerns, which are gaining ground as society becomes more environmentally aware.

Environmental awareness is increasingly finding itself high among the priorities of local businesses, driven by the consumers’ demand for environmentally-friendly products, according to Malta Enterprise CEO Dr Sue Vella. Dr Vella explains that environmental concerns are no longer seen as merely hampering the expansion of industry, but as having commercial potential. She quotes various studies that show that the adoption of environmental standards results in significant benefits in the long-term. Industry and its products have an impact on the environment, through the entire cycle of obtaining raw materials and their transformation into products, energy consumption, waste generation and use and disposal of products by consumers.

Although these impacts can be positive if they enhance the quality of a resource or extend its use, they can also be negative, as a result of process and product pollution and of depletion or degradation of resources. There was a time when it was believed that environmental policies could have an adverse effect on employment, but while this might be true for regions characterised by heavy industry, evidence from other sectors casts doubt on this argument. Rather the opposite is being argued, as the drive towards more sustainable development has seen a rise in new green jobs and the greening of existing jobs. Green jobs can be found in all sectors and enterprises.These include jobs that help reduce consumption of energy and raw materials, limit greenhouse gas emissions, minimise waste and pollution, and protect and restore ecosystems. With more efficient production processes, preventive strategies, cleaner production technologies and procedures throughout the product life cycle, the policies and operations of industry can, and often do, play a major role in reducing impacts. Dr Vella says that as Malta’s industrial fabric is not characterised by heavy industry, the adoption of systems and processes which reduce environmental impact has not resulted in any significant costs which hamper growth. On the contrary, reduced consumption of energy and other resources may result in cost savings, and recycling and selling of the by-products can result in decreased waste disposal costs.

The truth is that public information campaigns play a key role in raising environmental awareness, as does the voluntary sector. Dr Vella says that in response to consumers’ increased demand, industry has contributed significantly to the development of systems and technologies to safeguard the environment. More companies are voluntarily introducing Corporate Social Responsibility policies to help improve the environment, over and above their legal obligations, for instance through clear policy statements and effective monitoring systems, implementation plans and employee training, she explains.The development and growth of green industries has resulted in significant investment in the research and development of new technologies, with the ultimate aim of improving and enhancing the environment.

Dr Vella states that Malta Enterprise (ME) works hand in hand with various key stakeholders, such as MEPA and industry representatives, to better understand market potential in certain environmental fields, such as recycling of waste. Local awareness is also driven by foreign companies which are supplied by local business, as they do not manufacture consumer goods, but parts or sub-products, which are then sold on to larger companies for integration into the finished consumer product. These larger companies, usually situated on mainland Europe, have high environmental standards, and in order to supply them the local industry must adopt similar standards. As the main drivers of development of innovative products and systems, industries are central to the attainment of the EU2020 targets, she says. Dr Vella explains that ME offers various types of support to enterprises seeking to adopt better environmental practices, mentioning the sum of around €35 million (ERDF funds) for some 570 beneficiaries under seven schemes, including Energy and Environment schemes.  A fourth call issued in the first week of February, with a budget of €8.5 million, will be assisting local companies in carrying out projects in areas such as the environment, R&D, innovation and others.

The environment scheme supports SMEs to invest in improving their environmental performance, through eco-innovation, thereby contributing to environmental sustainability by addressing issues such as water and air quality, waste streams, as well as resource utilisation. Furthermore the Quality scheme, intended to assist with costs related to achieving recognised environmental certifications, was also launched recently. Another popular scheme is MicroInvest, which supports micro-enterprises and self-employed investing in their business, including the implementation of compliance directives. “We also mainstream environmental concerns in the development of our projects, and are closely following developments in green procurement in the public sector,” she concludes.